Have you ever wondered, why some deeply religious people seem to live in a state that makes you wonder if they have been smoking weed? You know: the calm voice, open-mindedness and smiling all suggest that there’s some external substances involved.
Yesterday I met a couple of evangelizing Christians who were just like this: easy-going and easy to talk with – to the point where their evangelizing began. At that moment the warm atmosphere started to turn ice-cold, because my Buddhist friend couldn’t stand them imposing “Jesus, God and Heaven”.
I listened to one story of conversion because I was interested in the ways of thinking he had gotten into. What I noticed was fascinating: it is the personal narrative that plays a part in a converted person’s happy state of mind.
When one is converted into a religion or a movement, the person becomes inclined to create a coherent narrative of his/her life. This narrative includes past wrongdoings (such as alcohol usage, crime and ignorance towards fellow humans), the moment of realization and the present moment of happiness and life free of temptations.
The story in itself creates a sense of meaning for the person: a path from darkness to light is formed in the mind. Telling the story in a group of fellow believers is important, because it creates coherence in the group: we all have our dark past, but now “we are here together to praise the Lord”.
The narrative may be successful among people who share the same literary topos, the “places of valid argumentation”. For example: if you drink lots of alcohol and feel bad about it, or neglect friends and feel bad about it, you are probably more open to the religious message than a person who doesn’t have those experiences. Similar experiences and backgrounds prepare the soil for common argumentation.
However, evangelizing is more difficult among people who’ve “been there, done that”, people who have had the time to study religion from a neutral viewpoint or people who are satisfied with their life. It is not so easy to convert you if you feel good about yourself.